Interview: Ron D. Moore & Kate Vernon Talk Battlestar Galactica

Ron D. Moore, Kate Vernon

A few weeks back, after the revelation of Ellen Tigh as the final Cylon, Ron D. Moore and Kate Vernon took some time to answer a few questions in a conference call with the press about the final episodes of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

Here is what they had to say:

(To Ron D. Moore) At one point did you decide Ellen was the Cylon, and why did you pick her?

Ron D. Moore: I was trying to figure out exactly when I picked Ellen, and I’m not quite sure exactly. It was some time in the third season. I think the option of presenting her as one of the final Cylons was sort of kicking around for a while, but we really didn’t have an intention of revealing all four of the final four Cylons in the season finale until we were breaking that actual episode. So there wasn’t really a focus on delineating exactly who the final five were for quite a while, but I think Ellen’s name was kicking around the office in terms of, well who could the remaining Cylons be, and maybe it would be Ellen. And we kind of put a pin in that. “But yes, that might be cool. Maybe we’ll get back to that some day.” And it wasn’t really until after we had decided to reveal four of the final five in that season finale that then it become, you know, a more pressing question. And then in-between the two seasons we went on a writers’ retreat and talked about everything in detail, and Ellen was the primary candidate to be the fifth Cylon, but we were very open to sort of, you know, a wider discussion.
“Well we think it’s this Ellen. Let’s say she’s the leading candidate. But who are the others?” And we talked about other possibilities, but none of them really held water. None of them made sense, and none of them really gave us much, so we stuck with Ellen. And I would say it worked primarily because of her relationship with Tigh. It really sort of anchored that couple as something that was very special. And I liked the fact that, you know, Ellen as a character was an off-camera presence right from the beginning of the show in the mini-series. We started hearing about Tigh’s wife, and it was one of his key defining characteristics, and so we knew she was important in the mythology of the show.
And I liked the idea of saying that this couple had been together a very long time that this couple was something special, that they were sort of this eternal romance and this eternal love, which I really thought was real interesting and cool. And it completed sort of the framework of the final five. And it just fit, you know, it all kind of fit. It also made the fact that Tigh had killed his wife back on New Caprica even richer and more complicated and filled with more ironies and more, you know, conflicted feelings about what was happening and what the story was. And so that’s essentially how the process went.

Who was the first runner up?

Ron D. Moore: Oh, I knew you were going to ask that. I think we, you know, we just kind of threw them all out. I don’t know that there was a second – I mean we talked about Dualla we talked about Gaeta. We talked about, you know, all of our regulars, and we talked about – we dismissed Eddie and Mary pretty quickly, because we kind of say, “Well it could be – what if it was Adama, what if it was Laura.”
I felt that that took something away from the show that it actually would hurt us, because it felt like once they said Adama was a Cylon, it just felt like part of the journey itself wasn’t right and didn’t have the same meaning that I wanted it to, so they kind of fell out early.
And then we talked briefly about Dualla and Gaeta and just didn’t – they were interesting characters, but it didn’t feel like it heightened the stakes.

(To Ron D. Moore) Has this trip gone the way you expected it?

Ron D. Moore: No, certainly not. You know, I didn’t anticipate the critical acclaim of the show. I didn’t anticipate, you know, how deeply it would penetrate out into the general audience and, you know, that it would be talked about as much as it is, and get the awards that it has and, you know, that it would have this kind of spotlight on it. I just sort of thought that it was a good show.
I believed in what we were doing, and I thought it would be special and something that I could be proud of. But that was about as far as it went. And in terms of creatively, I’m very surprised at where we ended up. You know, all the characters and the mythologies. And none of that I had in the beginning. I just sort of trusted that we would figure it out, and we did. But I didn’t really have a grand master plan of how it was all going to fit together.

Was there a point along the way though where you sort of felt like you were getting to the direction you wanted to go?

Ron D. Moore: Yes, I mean right from the first season I felt like, you know, the first season was a lot about experimentation and trying different structures in terms of storytelling and, you know, what fit the show, what did not fit the show. And by the end of that first season, I figured that I had the answer. Well this is the show, and I sort of understood where we were going and what it was about. And, you know, what was the best way that Galactica could tell the stories.

(To Kate Vernon) How hard was it to keep this a secret? Was it difficult not to just blurt it out every time you talked to anybody?

Kate Vernon: Oh gosh, this has been – yes there were waves of intense agony and frustration, and then I would completely forget about it. I mean I had two years to ride the – I think we decided it was around that long – that amount of time, Ron. I’m not exactly chronologically sure, but it was a really long time.
So within that enormous amount of time, I did actually forget about it for a minute. But for the most part, this was something I wanted to talk about desperately just because it was such an honor to have been given this role.
When they killed me off, I went up to Ron and I looked him straight in the eyes and I said, “Isn’t there any way I can come back? Is there any way I’m coming back?” And he just looked at me very gently and assuredly said no.
And so I was done, you know, in Ron’s eyes. But in my heart, you know, I personally had a love affair with Ellen as an actress and this show, and so I never let go of it. And Ron can attest to that, because I called him several times. And bless you Ron for taking all of my phone calls.

Ron D. Moore: Well I, you know, on my side of it, you know, killing off Ellen was great creatively. It was one of those big sort of like, “Whoa, that’s a great ending. Man, that’s going to be powerful.” And it was a great excitement about what it was. But, you know, it was hard to let go of the character, it was hard to say that, “Oh, Ellen’s not going to be in the show anymore.”
And I would say legitimately probably the hardest moment or one of – probably the hardest moment of my experience on the show was calling Kate Vernon and saying, “We’re killing off your character.”
It was really – it was just – it was a really emotional – it was really heartbreaking and it was painful. It was painful to do that, and it was – I think that on some level I carried that with me a lot, and I think it certainly gave me impetus to want to bring her back. Let’s put it that way.

Coming full circle, was there ever even a minute where you were tempted to have a crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 at the end of the show?

Ron D. Moore: No.

(To Kate Vernon) Give us a little preview. Now that we know that you’re back for a handful of episodes ’til the end of the series, what kinds of stuff, without too much in the way of spoilers, will we see you doing?

Ron D. Moore: Talking. Lots of talking.

Kate Vernon: Yes, I’ll be talking. I’ll be walking and talking. I get to reunite with my husband in the good old fashioned way that they do. Let’s see, I can’t really talk too much about that without spilling something right, Ron?

Ron D. Moore: Yes, I think that’s – just saying that you reunite along is – it’s probably enough.

Kate Vernon: Okay. See I’m a little nervous about talking about anything.

Ron D. Moore: Yes, the trick is from now to the end of the series, it’s pretty much one continuous story. And so we don’t want to give any of the building blocks away, because then you’ll kind of know where the current story (parks) too. So we’re just trying to be as opaque about what’s left as we can.

(To Ron D. Moore) What was your reaction to the reaction of these deaths last week? Obviously the fan base went kind of nuts. Some of them thought it was the most brilliant thing, some of them saw it coming. Some of them said, “Why did you kill the one black character?” I mean it was all sorts of interesting response to it. What was your reaction to the reaction?

Ron D. Moore: Oh I’m pleased. You know, it got a huge response, and that’s what you go for. You try to get a response out of your audience. You know, you try to go out every once in a while you want to reach out and grab you by the throat and say, feel something, you know, Have a reaction. Get involved. Think. What does this mean to you? What does it mean for Dualla, you know, blows her brains out suddenly, you know, shockingly.
What does that mean? Do you care? Are you paying attention? I mean I think it’s great. And people can have whatever the specific reaction is, is fine with me as long as they have a reaction; as long as they’re emotionally caught up in a show and it means something to them.

Looking forward, can you give a little sense of how excited you are to get really deep into Caprica and also assuming The Plan is that going forward moving?

Ron D. Moore: The Plan is in the can, and I haven’t seen the cut yet but it’s, you know, the filming’s been completed, and we have a lot of post production work to do. And I don’t know what the street date is on it yet. I haven’t heard that, but, you know, it’s done and looking forward to seeing it.
Caprica’s getting under way. We’re putting the writer’s room together as we speak. It’s very exciting. It’s a very different challenge. It’s a very different show, and I think, you know, there’s a sense of well Battlestar has set a very high bar, you know, and that’s sort of makes everybody have to bring their A game. And I think that’s the spirit in which we approach Caprica.

Is it kind of a creative reset button pushing, staying in the world or doing something different?

Ron D. Moore: Yes, well I don’t know if it’s reset, but it was – it’s certainly a way of sort of capturing the energy of the first season — of, well what is the show. Let’s figure out how we tell stories here, you know, what is – who are these characters? What’s it about? How are we going to, you know, tease the audience? Where are we going to take the show?
And so there’s a sense of exploration, there’s a sense of, you know, uncharted territory. And that’s exiting and it’s scary. It’s scary to have to get one of these things off the ground and hope that it’s all going to work out, that people will like it, and especially when, you know, everyone’s going to compare it to Battlestar. But that’s kind of the reason we’re in the business is to take on those kinds of challenges.

(To Kate Vernon) As an actress when you find out that your character is something very different than what you’re originally asked to play, how does that change your approach?

Kate Vernon: I had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking about it. And really I needed the material to see what direction Ellen was going in.
And the writers are so brilliant on this show, and the imaginations are so incredible that I really just had to open up and trust these words and trust this concept. And I had a couple of talks with Ron and couple, you know, talks with the directors about where we were going, but I’m a feeling actress. I don’t necessarily just go in there intellectually and break it down on a mental level and that. I know who Ellen is, you know, and I took this new information, which was so rich and deep and profound, and I don’t want to say too much about it, but the material is so well written that it guided me to through this – the change that Ellen goes through.

(To Ron D. Moore) One of he things that you’re not afraid to do in the show is just kill off many, many characters. So you’ve got a lot of people to choose from to bring back, but it was very interesting choice to bring someone back that is so sort of morally ambiguous and not one of the good guys, not one of the bad guys. Was that key in bringing her back?

Ron D. Moore: It was certainly one of the things that made it an interesting choice. I mean I always liked Tigh and Ellen both, because they were both flawed and noble characters who tended to get in their own way. And I liked the bad choices they made as much as I enjoyed the good choices that they made. And I wanted – I loved watching them claw at each other, and I loved the fact that they just couldn’t bear to be apart from one another. And it was just such a complicated relationship — that bringing her back and revealing her to be a Cylon and he’s a Cylon and they’ve always been Cylons and that there’s something profound about that relationship. I just thought that was fascinating in that it says something about, you know, the two lovers. Usually the two lovers that transcend time are, you know, the – they just long for each other and they’re just such good noble people that you hate them.
And Ellen and Tigh feel like a legitimate couple. They’re a married couple who just, you know, have to go at it periodically and just have major issues and major problems and this and that. But the bond between the two of them was something that literally could not be broken. And I though that that was a really interesting and ultimately very positive thing to say.

(To Ron D. Moore) Over the course of the series, the tone the personality of the characters even has gotten increasingly more grim, more dark, more stark even. Was that from the get-go an important conscious decision to show that these guys were really going through a nomadic journey basically?

Ron D. Moore: Yes. I mean I felt it was important to never lose sight of the premise of the show, which is that the show is born in an apocalypse – that literally billions of people are wiped out, and their world was taken away from them and everything they know is gone, and all they’ve got are these four walls and the ceiling and the floor around them. And those are made of metal.
And that these people are nomads in the truest sense. They’re going from place to place seeking, you know, an oasis, a home — seeking a place called earth. And that in that context, I didn’t want to sort of just magically say a few episodes down the line, and then they start feeling about it. And then it was fun and, you know, they just kind of life goes on, and you know, people get over it already. It just felt like to be truthful to that kind of an event, the emotional, you know, reverberations of that would continue forever. They would never really get over it. It would never be truly behind them. It would always been with them in some way. And yes, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t laugh, it didn’t mean that they couldn’t tell jokes every once in a while, that you couldn’t do stuff like that, but you had to sort of maintain the reality of where they were. And I felt that if you were able to do that, if you could be truthful to their experience as human beings in the wake of this disaster — this unimaginable disaster – that the audience would then, you know, invest themselves in what we were doing. They would go with us on this ride, they would invest themselves in the story, they would deal with killer robots from space they would go along with whatever you wanted as long as you dealt with the human emotion of it truthfully. So that just sort of dictated that there had to be a dark and, you know, oppressive sort of air to a lot of things. That they could never really just let go and have fun again. Even when they did have fun it was always sort of with this hovering thing in the background.

(To Ron D. Moore) Just to throw another theory at you, much like the fleet is looking for the lost 13th tribe of the 12 colonies is it conceivable that Starbuck could be the lost 13th Cylon of the 12 models?

Ron D. Moore: That’s an interesting theory. But I can neither confirm nor deny any theories at this point though, but enjoy, you know, enjoy.

(To Ron D. Moore) It seemed like Dee took it the hardest when they found the Earth was destroyed. Why was it her that went to pieces, when she appeared to be like one of the strongest women?

Ron D. Moore: I think it was because that; because she did appear to be one of the strongest ones. And Dee was the one that in many situations had sort of always been the voice of reason, the one that was going to try to soldier on, the one that would buck up Adama when he was down and she would buck up Lee when he was down. And there was sense of her kind of being the rock. And, you know, it was – it felt important to me that when they found Earth and Earth was a wasteland that the psychic damage from that would be profound.
I mean, this was everything that they had hoped for since the beginning of the – since the mini series. And you take that dream away from them, there’s a consequence, there’s a price to be paid. It didn’t feel like they should, again, like I was saying earlier, they shouldn’t just shrug a shoulder to move on. And it felt right that, in that circumstance, somebody would just check out. And there was something shocking about it being Dee because they had relied on her; because she had always been there. But just because a person is sort of, you know, being your rock and, you know, bucking you up doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own vulnerabilities and they don’t have their own breaking point. And that breaking point might surprise you. And that’s exactly why we decided to do it because it felt like they would all be shocked, the audience would be shocked, but it would be true. That there would be a sense of Dee, you know, on some level saying to herself but, you know, I don’t think she thought about it consciously but on a subconscious level she soldiered on and this far, no farther; I don’t want to soldier on anymore. I don’t want to soldier on anymore and I’m going to try to feel good one last time and then I’m out of here.

(To Ron D. Moore) Should we should be drawing any parallels between the sort of nuclear holocaust on Earth and the destruction on Cobol?

Ron D. Moore: Yes.

(To Kate Vernon) How was the conversation between you and Ron and how did he sort of preface saying that you’d be coming back as the final Cylon?

Kate Vernon: Well, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get this right. But Ron called me and, you know, his secretary said hey Katie I have Ron on the phone for you. And Ron’s voice comes through the phone and he sounded really sad and kind of morose. And he’s like hi Kate. I’m like hi Ron. He goes, well I spoke to the network and I’m just sorry to say that they agreed to green light this project and it’s just unfortunate that you’re going to have to come back to work for us. He messed with my head right up to the very minute of actually letting me know that I’m coming back.
Now I didn’t know at that point what that meant. I had no idea so I was just elated that I was coming back. And then the conversation evolved into me being the fifth Cylon and that’s when I wasn’t sure he was talking to the right person or teasing me again. It was quite an amazing very long conversation.

(To Ron D. Moore) With the new series, Caprica, on the horizon did you hold back at all on wrapping up the Cylon mythology to give fans an incentive to tune into the new show? Or does Battlestar Galactica pretty much settle it for us?

Ron D. Moore: Galactica is going to pretty much settle it. I mean, Caprica will be about how the colonial – the people on the colonies developed the Cylons. And that has its own story to tell about how that came about. But in terms of the larger mysteries and mythologies and hows and the whys and how everything lays out on Galactica we set out to answer as many of the questions that we could by the end of the show and that’s what we did. We didn’t hold anything in reserve and say oh well we’ll deal with this over in Caprica.

Have there been any solid plans for movies either made for TV or otherwise featuring the characters of Battlestar Galactica?

Ron D. Moore: Just the one that’s called “The Plan” that’s already been shot that Jane Espenson wrote and Eddie Olmos directed. That one’s been shot, it’s in the can; I haven’t seen the cuts. It’s another two hour movie very similar to (Razor) that we did a couple years ago, same kind of idea. It won’t – it will not take place after the finale, the finale is the end of the period at the end of the sentence. And “The Plan” will take place earlier in the chronology in the same way that “Razor” took place earlier in the chronology.

(To Kate Vernon) Can you talk a little bit about your interaction with Tigh and your work with Michael Hogan? Could you compare the two experiences prior to the big reveal and after the reveal; has anything changed? How has that whole dynamic worked out for you between you two actors?

Kate Vernon: Oh no, I mean, the chemistry is there; the history is there. You know, I mean, at one point before I started shooting I walked into Michael’s trailer and I was a little stunned, you know, I’m coming back as the fifth Cylon and I felt this enormous responsibility. And not to give anything away but I had a tremendous amount of dialogue, just, you know, tremendous amount of dialogue. And Michael looked at me and said, just know that you are Ellen and everything will be fine. And basically what he’s saying is that I’m already Ellen; I don’t need to do anything, and let the words guide me. And it was the kindest and most supportive thing an actor or anybody could have said because, you know, I was very concerned that I was going to answer creatively, you know, what Ron and what the writers intended to reveal as, you know, and as the Cylon. I felt a lot of pressure. But Michael Hogan has been a tremendous amount of support – been a tremendous amount of support and very encouraging and a very safe place for me to show up every day.

(To Ron D. Moore) Could you shed any light on maybe looking back into the writer’s room, were there any crazy ideas that you guys were considering that never made it?

Ron D. Moore: Oh sure. There were lots of things, lots of blind alleys that you go down, you know, when you’re in the writer’s room. And sometimes on the page and sometimes even on camera and you watch it – you either watch it in the cutting room and you go oops and you cut that out or you cut it in the stage or you cut it on the script or you censor it in the writer’s room. And, you know, it’s just a – it’s part of the process. And I think one of things I like to do with writers is to just not have any bad ideas; like throw out anything, you know, we’ll try anything. We will take any idea seriously and if it doesn’t work fine, you know, you have to be willing to take risk, you know. And the big ideas that we have that really paid off were risky ones, you know, jumping ahead a year in the narrative; revealing four of the Cylons at once. You know, there were various risks that we took that at first – at first blush sounded ludicrous, kind of crazy; you can’t do that, you can’t do that in the show. And, you know, we found a way to do it. But, you know, along the way, along the trail are various things that were kicked off the chuck wagon, you know, and just left by the wayside.

Any examples of maybe some kind of twist or plot element way back when that didn’t make the cut but that’s kind of fun to look back at now?

Ron D. Moore: Oh there was a story point that I wrote in a season finale that is now regarded within fan circles as the great stupid idea of Ron Moore. In the season finale of Season 1 I had a premise where Baltar was down on the surface of Cobol, which was a planet we were involved with at that point and he was going to make his way into a – he’d found a temple there and this complicated plot. And he goes into the temple and Six is telling him, keep going, keep going, you’ll find something. And he goes through some dark room and turns around and then Dirk Benedict appears and says, hello guys; I’m god and shakes his hand. And we were going to go out on that moment. Now setting aside the fact that Dirk Benedict hates everything about this show and would probably never do it in a million years, more fundamentally it was just a crazy concept. I was seeking in those days to try to find things about breaking reality and fantasy and what is a story; what is not a story and what is the connection of this world to our world. And I was just playing with ideas and this was like this whacky idea I had and put in the script. And there was a pretty universal reaction that everyone hated it. I quickly just said, okay, bad idea; that one’s mine and we’ll just kick that out of it and we’ll move on. And that was, you know, you just have to swing for the fences, you know.

Do you feel the character’s arcs are all resolved to your satisfaction?

Ron D. Moore: Yes, I’d say so. Yeah, I’d say the character’s arcs and the mythology of the show is that it is resolved to my satisfaction by the time all is said and done. I think we answer most if not all of the major questions of the show. I think there are some things that we decided to leave deliberately ambiguous or at least make you think about them further after the show but those were more creative choices about, you know, you don’t want every single little tiny thing wrapped up in a bow the end, you know, life’s not like that. I mean there should be some room for ambiguity and some room for thought and some room to say, yeah I wonder about this part of it. But that’s kind of the exception, you know, it’s not the rule. More or less we kind of deal with all the issues and kind of give answers to them.

(To Ron D. Moore) As a writer and producer do you see yourself staying within the genre of sci-fi? Or would you ever like to branch out to things that are just pure drama without any sci-fi?

Ron D. Moore: I don’t know. You know, I get asked this question a lot and I’ve had it, you know, pretty much through my whole career. And there was a point, you know, years ago when I was doing my service at Trek that I kind of said, oh, you know, I want to do something different; I want to get out of the genre. But I always sort of found something to bring me back to the genre either an idea that somebody presented to me like Galactica or something of my own like the various pilots that I’ve come up with over the years or movie concepts or this or that. And I don’t know, I just like playing this genre, but I like other things and I’ve written other things and I’ve written other pilots and genres that are not sci-fi or fantasy whatsoever. And I’ll just continue to do what I think is interesting at the time. I mean, I think I’ve learned enough to not try to predict what the great creative thing I want to get involved with; you just have to sort of wait and see.